Miguel freaking Montero.
That’s what tonight came down to. A guy who had struggled all season and had lost his starting job coming off the bench and hitting the biggest grand slam in Cubs history. Because of that, the Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4 to win game one of the 2016 National League Championship Series.
It’s going to be hard to doubt that this is the Cubs year after that game. That game was filled with all the curses of years past. It didn’t matter. The Cubs lead the Dodgers one game to none in a best-of-seven series.
The Cubs broke out to an early lead when the first two batters of the game combined for a run. Dexter Fowler singled and Kris Bryant doubled him home on a ball that a normal left fielder would have at least a 50-50 chance of catching. But Howie Kendrick is actually a second baseman stuck in left, and he didn’t come close to catching Bryant’s fly.
The Cubs added on two runs in the second inning after Jason Heyward tripled and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts brought the infield in. That was a mistake, as Javier Baez hit a soft pop up that would have been an easy catch with the infield at normal depth. Instead, the ball dropped in and Baez, hustling off the bat, slid into second with a double. After a wild pitch sent him to third, Baez scored on a play that Cubs fans will remember for a while. Pitcher Jon Lester tried to lay down a bunt in a safety squeeze, but he missed the pitch. Catcher Carlos Ruiz saw that Baez was off third base and he threw down to third. Baez broke home and scored easily on a steal of home. It was the first steal of home for the Cubs in a postseason game since Jimmy Slagle in 1907 (I’m aware of the controversy on that play. Let’s go with Slagle stealing home until someone says otherwise).
Then the Dodgers came back. Andre Ethier pinch-hit for Maeda in the 5th inning and hit a lazy fly ball to left field. The wind caught it and blew it into the stands. According to StatCast, there were 40 fly balls like that this season. 39 were outs. One was a double. This one was a home run.
Manager Joe Maddon pinch-hit for Jon Lester in the sixth inning. A lot of people second-guessed the call, but it was the right one. The Dodgers were hitting Lester pretty hard and another run could have been huge. I would have pinch-hit Willson Contreras instead of Jorge Soler, but that was the mistake there, not pinch-hitting. Unfortunately, Soler grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.
Then came the eighth inning. The Dodgers loaded the bases with no outs on a single by Andrew Toles and a walk to Chase Utley. Justin Turner then hit a slow grounder to third that Kris Bryant tried to turn a double play on by stepping on the bag at third and throwing to first. Instead, he got zero outs.
Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman from the bullpen. With the bases loaded and no outs, Chapman struck out Corey Seager. He struck out Yasiel Puig. But the luck ran out with Adrian Gonzalez, who tied the game up with a single to center field.
Chapman got Yasmani Grandal to ground out to end the inning, but the damage was done. The lead that the Cubs had had since the first inning was gone. But the game was still tied and the Cubs were the home team.
Ben Zobrist led off the bottom of the inning with a double. Addison Russell, who has struggled mightily lately, failed to move Zobrist over to third. Then Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided to walk Jason Heyward to face Javier Baez. Certainly a questionable decision, but it worked because Baez flew out on the first pitch.
Then came the decision that no one can understand. With two outs and runners on first and second, Roberts ordered reliever Joe Blanton to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan to load the bases. This is idiotic on several levels. It puts a runner on third when previously, there was only a runner on second. It means that a walk, a hit batter or a wild pitch would give the Cubs the lead. The only real advantage here is that Maddon has to pinch-hit for Chapman. But there was no guarantee that Chapman would pitch a second inning anyway.
Maddon called on Montero. Montero hit a grand slam on an 0-2 slider. Later, Dexter Fowler added another run on another home run off of Blanton.
Maddon called on Rondon to close out the game in the ninth and he had a few issues, giving up a run on a Joc Pederson single and an Andrew Toles double. But Chase Utley hit a screaming line drive right at Anthony Rizzo at first base. Rizzo caught it, threw to second for a double play and the Cubs won their first NLCS game since 2003.
Rizzo’s play was characteristic of the Cubs terrific defense in this game. Dexter Fowler made two terrific catches in center field. Rizzo made that great double play to end the game. Ben Zobrist threw out Adrian Gonzalez trying to score from second base on a two-out single in the second inning, although that was really a bad send by the Dodgers third base coach.
So the story here is clutch hitting and defense by the Cubs and some bad coaching by the Dodgers. I’m not afraid to admit that it would have been bad if the Cubs lost tonight. With Lester on the mound and Clayton Kershaw set to go tomorrow, it would have put the Cubs in a big hole. But thanks to a backup catcher who hit a pinch-hit grand slam, the Cubs have not taken control of the NLCS and are now three wins away from their first World Series since 1945.
Take an hour and celebrate. Then go win again tomorrow.